AbstractsPolitical Science

Political conflict: how social identity processes influence individuals' experience of political violence

by Geoff McCombe

Institution: University of Limerick
Year: 2014
Keywords: political violence; Northern Ireland; social identity; social division
Record ID: 1179717
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10344/4236


The thesis examines how social identity processes influence individuals’ experience of political violence. It argues that individual experience is shaped by the groups the individual belongs to. In particular it examines the importance of social identity to understanding prejudice and conflict. The thesis explores extant experimental research which illustrates the importance of social settings in mediating attitudes and behaviour. This includes empirical evidence of the relationships between social identity and social influence, social identity and social support, and the importance of experience of political violence in shaping social identity. The thesis then outlines a brief history of the conflict in Northern Ireland and reviews extant social identity research specific to Northern Ireland. A qualitative methodology was used to extend the literature of quantitative studies carried out within psychology on the conflict in Northern Ireland. In effect, the predominant use of student and random population samples has ignored the broader social context within which participants are located, and has often failed to examine the experiences of those most affected by the conflict. As such the thesis highlights how the positivist scientific method as the sole basis for understanding human behaviour is severely limited. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 32 individuals, across three studies, from diverse backgrounds, who have lived in Northern Ireland before, during, and after the conflict. The data was analysed using a thematic analysis which offered an accessible and theoretically flexible approach to analysing qualitative data. The findings provide support for social identity processes in informing attitudes to living in Northern Ireland. From the data it was apparent that in terms of engagement with others that the traditional fault line between Catholic and Protestant is clearly evident with religious categorisation being continually used by participants as a way of organising their social worlds. This allows for the sectarian divide to be maintained and to exclude and denigrate outgroup members. The most prominent theme identified across all three studies was that of social division. However social division was portrayed in different ways across the three studies, highlighting that political conflict in Northern Ireland did/does not affect everyone equally.